News Tidbits 4/25/15: Long Week, Long Reads

25 04 2015

Grab the popcorn and sodas, folks, this will be a long one.

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1. Let’s start with some new and updated renders for the evolving 210 Hancock Street development that INHS has planned for the Northside neighborhood.

In each image, the top half is the old version, the bottom half the newest version. The lead image, an aerial rendering, shows that the houses haven’t changed much, though at the city and neighborhood’s insistence, Lake Street has now been closed off to all vehicular traffic in the refined proposal. The biggest structural changes have been in the apartment buildings – the color scheme of materials has been changed up quite a bit, and the partitions between the buildings have been re-worked to try and make the buildings appear less connected (one of the complaints raised was that they were too much like a wall; for this same reason, the buildings are slightly offset from each other, so no continuous face is presented towards the street).

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Looking closer at the individual apartment buildings themselves, the designs have been pretty thoroughly reworked. Different window layouts, different window sizes, different colors – about the only thing that’s been kept the same is the overall massing of each building. The plan calls for 53 1 and 2-bedroom apartments and about 65,000 square feet of space, of which 7,500 square feet will be covered parking. The included commercial space has been expanded from 8,200 sq ft in the initial proposal, to about 10,000 sq ft now. More renders of the newest iteration can be found here.

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No real changes yet in the for-sale houses that will be included in the project, apart from a palette change (previous render here – the new one is less bright, with darker earth tones). These are designed to blend in with the surrounding homes, and fall in INHS’s typical 2-3 bedroom, 1,100-1,400 sq ft range. The houses are townhomes in rows of 2-4 units, All sporting one or two-story porches. These will be built in a phase separate from the apartments. Certain affordable housing grants are geared towards owner-occupied units specifically, so the Neighborhood Pride lot will be split up into two parcels, one with the apartment rentals, one for the homeowners.

Questions and comments can be directed to the City Planning Office at dgrunder@cityofithaca.org.

2. Up in Lansing village, it looks like a proposed mixed-use project may finally be moving forward after years of incubation. “CU Suites”, a 3-story, 43,000 square foot project proposed by the Thaler family for a vacant lot on Cinema Drive, is asking the village to waive sewer connection fees. Presumably, this is about getting their finances in order before moving into the construction phase; there has been no news if funding has been secured yet. Something to keep an eye on this summer, certainly.

The Cinema Drive site was previously approved for a project of those parameters in fall 2012, consisting of two commercial spaces and a 39-unit apartment building, but that plan has not been carried out. The CU Suites proposal went before the village for “alterations and possible clarification” last December. No updated renders on the village website, but a site plan of the previously approved plan can be found here.

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3. Here’s some more details on the “not feasible as presented” Flatiron project. Readers might recall the 12-unit affordable housing proposal at 910 West State Street was given low priority for HUD Entitlement Grant funding.

From the presentation notes recently posted online:

“The project application is not fully developed, but probably represents more of an effort to start a conversation about the project. There is a great need for affordable housing in the community. The project was conceived to address the high cost associated with typical renovations to properties which make them unaffordable. The project would be located in an oddly-shaped trapezoidal building which [Ishka Alpern] would like to renovate to match its prior condition. It would be a very nice, unique addition to Inlet Island. Inlet Island has historically been a location for affordable housing and it is important to maintain that, before too many unaffordable projects are built there. Unfortunately, it is difficult to build affordable housing units without some form of funding assistance.”

In the Q&A the committee had with developer Ishka Alpern, no time table was given, and Alpern said he was open to waiting a year to refine it. It was also noted that once a commercial lease on the property expires in four years, an even larger project could be proposed, though it could be limited by the poor soils. While it appears renovating is the most feasible approach, the city was not impressed with the cost of investment per beneficiary – larger projects like 210 Hancock mentioned above have economies of scale going for them, costing less to build per unit. Smaller projects like the Flatiron need proportionately more assistance, making them less attractive for grant money. The city’s looking for the greatest good for the greatest number, in a sense.

In other news from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA), a private developer, Viridius Property LLC, is buying five duplexes with 10 units of affordable housing from non-profit Community Housing of Ithaca with the intent of keeping them low-to-moderate income, but retrofitting the buildings to run on renewable energy sources. Viridius, a company run by computer scientist and tech CEO Stuart Staniford and his wife, was established in early 2014, and has been on a buying spree as of late. They own $1.7 million in rental real estate assets now, these duplexes will raise it $2.7 million, and the goal expressed in a letter to the IURA is $5 million.

Quoting the letter sent to the IURA:

“Viridius is oriented to the “triple-bottom-line.” Although as a privately owned business
we will look to return on investment, we also seek to improve the environment and society. We
are particularly focused on contributing to the solution to climate change by converting the
existing building stock to be appropriate for continued use in the twenty-first century. At each of our properties, Viridius is removing the propane, natural gas, coal, or oil heating systems and replacing these with systems based on renewables. The specifics depends on the particular
building; to date, we have used pellet boilers and air source heat pumps. Viridius is also
developing our first solar panels at one of our buildings, and elsewhere acquires commercial
renewable power for electricity. Also, at our own residence we have deployed geothermal heat
pumps for heating and cooling and have all our electrical needs taken care of by solar panels on site. Viridius is certified as a living wage employer by the Tompkins County Worker’s Center
and has five full time staff at present in addition to the owners.

So it’s eco-friendly and/or affordable housing. Most residents will welcome the new fish into the local pond, even if all the property being acquired is a bit eye-raising.

Lastly from the IURA, the Carpenter Business Park on the north side is on the market for $2.85 million. Four vacant parcels on Third Street and Carpenter Park Road on the north side of the city recently sold for $2.216 million from “Templar LLC” based in Ithaca to “Ithaca Lender LLC” out of New Jersey, in what may have been a foreclosure sale. The address on file is associated with a company called “Kennedy Funding Financial LLC”, which is described as “one of the largest direct private lenders in the country, specializing in bridge loans for commercial property and land acquisition, development, workouts, bankruptcies, and foreclosures.” A google search turns up a legal notice between the two entities a few months ago.

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4. Construction is gearing up for the Gannett Health Center’s addition on Cornell’s Central Campus. Work on the project officially launched March 30th, according to the Cornell Daily Sun. Expect site clearing, excavation, and pile driving as we move through the spring and into the summer. The project will be broken into phases – Phase I focuses on new construction, Phase II on renovation of the current building, and Phase III concludes the project with reconstruction of the Ho Plaza entrance. About 75% of the material removed from the old building is expected to be recycled.

The architect of record is local architecture/Cornell alumni-filled firm Chiang O’Brien. There will be two additions, the four-story, 55,000 square-foot building featured above, and an additional 18,600 square foot addition that replaces the northeast side of the current building. The project also includes a new entrance and substantial renovations to the original 1950s structure (22,400 square feet of the existing 35,000), as well as landscaping, site amenities, and utilities improvements. The projected cost is $55 million, and the target completion date is October 2017.

The Gannett Health Center expansion has been a long time coming. Initial plans in the late 2000s called for a completely new building on site. HOLT Architects prepared a plan for a 119,000 square foot building, and an all-new building was also included in Cornell’s 2008 Master Plan. But once the Great Recession waged its battle on Cornell’s finances, the Gannett redevelopment was scaled back to its current form. According to a statement given by Gannett Director Dr. Janet Corson-Rikert to the Sun, the earlier plan had a budget of $133 million; the new addition and renovations are expected to cost $55 million.

The project is expected to create about 175 construction jobs and 40 permanent jobs (additional doctors, counselors and support personnel) when completed.

5.  According to next week’s Board of Public Works agenda, the approved 327 Eddy apartment project has been pretty heavily modified.

Here’s the old design:
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Here’s what the developer is planning to build:

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I must have missed something? All the sources I’ve seen have referred to this as a six-story building, not five. The side windows were added late in the approvals process, I think. Anyway, the project is going to the BPW because the developer wants to project the top centerpiece window as a bay window rather than having it set back from the front facade. This would push two feet (2′ x 12′ isoceles triangle) into the city’s right-of-way over Eddy Street,  and the board is recommending to the council that the mayor authorize (he says she should he should, sheesh) the intrusion for an appraised value of $3,073.84, based on an appraisal value from Pomeroy Appraisal Associates in Syracuse.

The decrease in size also comes with a decrease in units and rooms – from 28 units and 64 beds to 22 units and 53 beds. This is a double-edged sword – some might cheer the loss of size or like that the roofline is continuous with its northern neighbor, but it will be harder to stem the tide of single-family home conversion to student apartments if Collegetown’s core isn’t as capable of absorbing Cornell’s student population growth.

The included email in the agenda says the planning board recommended an overhang bay window. Personally, I feel it would make the building look clunky. But that’s just me.

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6. Here’s another project being served up to the Planning Board this Spring. Additions and renovations to a car dealership down in southwest Ithaca’s suburbia. Site Plan Review and drawings here. The dealership is Maguire Fiat Chrysler. Plans call for combining two show lots into continuous lot and adding 20 spaces, adding a 1,165 square foot showroom addition, and new landscaping and signage, including a second freestanding sign for Fiat that requires a sign variance (the max allowed by zoning is one freestanding sign). Documents indicate all the work will cost about $360k and run from September to December of 2015.

Observant readers might remember that Maguires proposed a delaership/headquarters compound in Ithaca town late last year; but due to irreconcilable differences regarding standard zoning vs. Planned Development zone, the plan was tabled.

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7. Woof. Almost to the end. The Ithaca Planning and Development Board is going to have their hands full at next Tuesday’s meeting. Agenda here. Here’s a rundown of what’s in store:

– A minor subdivision to create a new home lot at 201-203 Pearl Street.

A. Approving the adjustment to the Carey Building design discussed earlier this week

B. Enhancements to the pocket park next to the Lake Street bridge (landscaping, paving)

C. Declaration of Lead Agency and discussion on INHS’s 210 Hancock project

D. Declaration of Lead agency, Public Hearing and Determination of Environmental Significance for the proposed Texas Roadhouse on Meadow Street

E. Declaration of Lead agency for the Tompkins Financial HQ – hopefully, we’ll get some detailed renders at the meeting

F. “State Street Triangle Project (Trebloc Building site)” – This will be huge. I cannot stress by excitement enough at seeing the Trebloc Building demolished – I have not hidden my dislike of it, and in nearly seven years of writing this blog, it’s the only building I’ve ever called an “architectural turd“.  Located at 301 East State Street, the Trebloc Building was built in 1974 during the age of Urban Renewal, and was originally supposed to be two floors. The city has been quietly desiring redevelopment of the prominent corner for years, and the site was upzoned from 60 to 120 feet in late spring 2013.

According to some praise-worthy sleuthing by David Hill at the Ithaca Journal, the developer is Robert Colbert in cooperation with Austin Texas-based Campus Advantage, a large-scale developer of student apartments. plans call for a 120-foot building on site, with first floor retail and student-oriented apartments above.

This will be a tremendous project by Ithaca standards. The developer clearly states on its website that it’s only interested in working with sites that will provide at least 100 units of housing. Assuming the Trebloc Building’s footprint of 13,569 sq ft, one story retail followed by eleven floors of apartments yields almost 150,000 square feet of residential space. Figure a loss of 15% for utlities and circulation space, and an average size of about 980 square feet for an average residential apartment unit, and one gets 130 units and an unknown number of beds that could conceivably add a couple hundred students to downtown Ithaca’s population, not to mention millions of dollars of taxable real estate.

There’s a lot that will need to looked at – utility loads, parking, vehicle circulation, aesthetic impacts, and numerous other attributes. But the city’s holding the door open about as wide as it can for this site, and it’ll be an exciting process.

G. “Sketch Plan: Cornell Fine Arts Library – Rand Hall Addition”

Written about previously, it looks like the city will get its first chance to review the project. But someone with a insider’s look has some pretty harsh comments for the plan to renovate Rand hall.

Cornell Architecture professor Jonathan Ochshorn wrote in to tell readers here about the plans for the Fine Arts Library. I’m including a link to his blog post on the project here.

To try and sum up Prof. Ochshorn’s post would do him an injustice, but suffice it to say, the library plans will only keep the brick shell of Rand – the windows will be replaced, and a large “hat” will be placed on the roof. One that bears strong scrutiny from the Planning Board, since there could be significant visual aesthetic impacts on the Arts Quad Historic District.

I’m gonna tie up this post here and sit on the other items until next week. More weeks like this and I’ll need an intern.





News Tidbits 4/18/15: Where Will Ithaca Grow From Here

18 04 2015

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1. Leading off this week’s news round-up, here’s a thorough piece by the Ithaca Journal’s David Hill looking at the boom in local construction. Many developers had good things to say about the city’s even hand on the market, but then there’s this gem from Jason Fane:

The new Collegetown zoning isn’t universally praised in all aspects. Major Collegetown and downtown landlord and developer Jason Fane welcomed the removal of parking-space minimums from much of the neighborhood. But he said the rezoning added other rules that run up costs, such as requirements for high ceilings and adding “further retail space to a market that already has too much retail space.”

Hmm. Too much retail space, or a notoriously poor landlord to retail tenants?

From the IJ article, we also learned that Jason Fane’s 12-story 330 College project has been mothballed, Travis Hyde’s Ithaca Gun redevelopment will be called “Falls Park”, and Frost Travis himself isn’t optimistic about condos in Ithaca:

No owner-occupied units are in the plans for the gun-factory site. It’s a challenging site, Travis said. “I have not found a way to support condominiums in Ithaca yet,” Travis said. “But I’m not going to stop trying.”

Mayor Myrick expresses optimism that some of the more far-flung outer Collegetown housing might revert back to family housing, but with Cornell’s rapidly growing student population, don’t count on it.

2. Following up my January post, it looks like Cornell’s AAP school is releasing the first rendering of the new Fine Arts Library. At a glance, it looks like the form of Rand Hall will be kept the same as it is now, although there’s no real indication at this point what the exterior will look like after the new library is built.

The architect is a Cornell alum, Vienna-based Wolfgang Tschapeller M.A. ’87. Herr Tschapeller has made some pretty wild looking staircases before (definitely not for the faint-of-heart), so this avant-garde design seems well within his normal repertoire.

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One concern I have is that Rand’s windows are reduced to single panes in the rendering. It may be an intention of the design or it might be because the windows aren’t the focus of the render, but I always thought one of the charms of Rand Hall was the many-paned windows are a characteristic of the early 20th “daylight factory” industrial style that Rand (built 1911) is representative of. I am surprised that Rand Hall is not a part of the Arts Quad Historic District as designated by the city, but at this point I wish it was.

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3. On a brighter note for historic structures, some work is finally getting done on the forlorn house at 102 East Court Street, just north of downtown Ithaca. Unfortunately, it’s not because the owner suddenly had a change of heart about the decaying 187-year old house, which sits in the DeWitt Park Historic District. It’s because the city finally had enough of this crap and fined the owner, Ithaca lawyer Aaron Pichel, $5,000 last month, with threats to fine him another $15,000 if he didn’t bring the house up to code within six months.

I first wrote about this house in April 2012. Quoting that entry:

“Historically, the house is the “Judd House“. The house was built in 1828 – the same year Ezra Cornell had arrived in the budding town of Ithaca, which has hardly twenty years old. An estimate establishes the house as having about 3,100 sq ft, 4 bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms. Furthermore, the assessed value of the house is $190,000, although given its condition the land it sits on is probably worth more then the physical plant itself.

A casual online search reveals a photo from Cornell’s A.D. White Collection, which shows the house in a much better state of affairs in what the vehicle to the left suggests is the 1920s. Furthering searching indicates the house was most likely designed by Ira Tillotson, the same architect for the Clinton House, which is a contemporary to this home. The once-stately residence was built for Capt. Charles Humphrey, a veteran of the War of 1812, on what was then the corner of Cayuga and Mill Streets. The house and a long-removed barn were constructed for a cost of $2,105.56, which places the cost of construction likely somewhere in the upper six digits to $1 million-plus today. The name Judd House comes from long-time owners of the house in the 1900s, who apparently took great pains to keep the house in good shape. Sadly, that is not the case today.”

Plans filed with the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC) by local company McPherson Builders indicate plans to restore the front porch to an “acceptable condition”, with new roofing and rafters, cornice reconstruction, replacement of the semicircle window above the porch columns, porch column stabilization and repaint, and restoration the northwest chimney to its original configuration (full length with capping, as seen with the other two chimneys in the above photo).

Yes, please and thank you. It’s a shame it had to come to this to get the needed repairs addressed, but at least the historic home won’t be at risk of destruction. The plans underwent review at the ILPC’s April 14th meeting.

4. Touching real quick on this week’s Chapter House disaster – it’s hard to say what will happen with the site moving forward. It and 406 Stewart Avenue were contributing members to the East Hill Historic District. Probably the best solution at this point would be a sympathetic new build, like the one happening with 202 Eddy Street a few blocks away. But there’s no guarantee that will occur.

Notably, the two buildings exchanged hands only a couple weeks ago. On April 2nd, two sales for $615k and $835k were recorded for two tax parcels consisting of the Chapter House and the apartment buildings on either side (the tax parcel for the Chapter House building is combined with 406 Stewart, the apartment building that burned down). An LLC in suburban Orlando sold them to an LLC in suburban Philadelphia. I doubt there’s anything nefarious here, but the new owner is probably feeling a bit shell-shocked at the moment.

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5. Nothing big going on at Ithaca College, but there will be a small project to keep an eye on this summer: a small addition to house an elevator between Textor Hall and Friends Hall. Being a small project without significant impacts, the town is prepared to waive certain requirements for preliminary and site plan approval – this should be a pretty quick approvals process.The planning board will review the project next Tuesday the 21st. Comments on the project can be made here.

 





Fast Facts: Cornell Enrollment Figures, Part II

31 03 2015

Part I in September 2013 looked at enrollment from 2002-2012. This time, it’s a look over the whole 150 year history of Cornell.

The information and plots included here come courtesy of the Institutional Research and Planning unit at Cornell University, the same unit that maintains the Cornell University Factbook.

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As of Fall 2014, Cornell University enrolled 21,850 students at its Ithaca campus, the latest statistic on the rapid increase in student population since 2005, when the total student population was 19,447.  Many of the ups and downs in the 150 years or Cornell are easy enough to qualify – drops in male enrollment as students went off to fight in World War I and World War II, the Post-WWII GI Bill bringing an enormous increase in enrollment. Then there’s a leveling off in enrollment during the 1970s due to financial constraints, and the rapid rise of women in college starting in the late 1960s, as more and more women sought out education and careers.

Early on, a decline can be seen in enrollment, from 561 in 1876-77 to a low of 384 students in 1881-82. According to Morris Bishop in A History of Cornell, “Various reasons were given for the dwindling enrollment: hard times, increased tuition, stiffened entrance exams, coeducation, Cornell’s reputation for religion. Probably each of these reasons was valid in certain cases (p. 201).” The absence of university president A. D. White while he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany from 1879-1881 didn’t help matters. Thankfully for the university’s finances, enrollment rebound and morale increased after White returned.

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More notably, starting around fall 2011, the number of women enrolled as undergrads exceeded the number of men, the first time ever in Cornell’s history. This reflects national trends – women are now the majority of matriculated students in all self-identifying groups.

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Perhaps in part due to large increases in research spending in the 1950s and 1960s, grad students more than doubled in population in fifteen years, increasing from 1,528 in 1950 to 3,149 in 1965. The growth since 2000 isn’t as dramatic, but nearly as large in number – 3,918 in 2000 to 5,140 in 2014. The drop off in the 1990s can be attributed to “cuts in federal aid to higher education, especially R1 type institutions”, according to Ithaca College Economics professor Elia Kacapyr.

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Taking a quick look at the law school’s enrollment numbers, there was a tremendous spike in enrollment after World War II, thanks to the GI Bill – 460 students in 1950, more than doubling the 201 reported in 1939. 78 percent of law students in 1950 hailed from other institutions for their undergraduate degrees (Morris Bishop’s A History of Cornell, p. 575). During WWII, the law school accelerated its degree program by a year (Bishop 547), which might explain why the drop was more severe than in other programs. A mere 49 students were enrolled in the law school in Fall 1943.

More recently, Cornell had a spike in law school enrollment, as part of a larger boom in law school education during the recession. The law school went from 583 students in 2008 to 689 in 2009, a remarkable amount of growth for one year. Law school looked like a ticket to a six-figure job during the recession, but after a couple of years of horror stories of law students unable to find high-paying jobs to match their high debts, applications have decreased nationwide and the enrollment numbers at Cornell have eased down just a little bit, to 668. The shrinkdown isn’t nearly as bad as some other schools, however.

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On the other hand, it now seems like MBAs are the go-to for that six-figure job, with a large boost in matriculants nationwide. Whether or not B-school grads have a law school-like meltdown has yet to be seen, but there’s no doubt that MBA student enrollment is growing by tremendous leaps and bounds Far Above Cayuga – the Johnson School of Management has grown from 655 students in 2004 to 1,168 in 2014.

One thing that stands out is that from 1947 (when the business school began teaching students) to 1969, there had never been more than 4 women enrolled at any one time.

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Lastly, the Vet School. Morris Bishop has an enlightening anecdote to share about applying to the school in the Post-War era:

“The Veterinary College was distressed by its popularity. The upsurge of interest in the scientific study of animal life and disease overwhelmed the country’s ten veterinary colleges. By 1947 we had 750 applications for entrance, or fifteen for every place. Since our first duty was to New York State boys, out-of-state applicants had one chance in forty of admission. The same situation prevailed elsewhere; a boy who lived in a state without a veterinary school had practically no chance of entering the field. The need led to the creation of a number of new schools, and the pressure upon Cornell gradually eased.” (Bishop 576)

Starting in 1980, women exceeded enrollment of men at the Vet School – today, the breakdown is about 75-25 in favor of women. I have had several vet school friends say that to be a single straight male in the Vet School makes one a very hot commodity. Cornell can expect to see increases in enrollment in the next few years, as part of its plan to enroll 120 in each class (480 total, up from the current 421) by 2017.





News Tidbits 3/21/15: Imagine If It Was Trader Joe’s…

21 03 2015

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1. Yet another chain restaurant entering the Ithaca scene, this time Louisville, Kentucky-based Texas Roadhouse. There’s 24 separate documents on the city website, and I’ll link to the most useful ones here – the Building Application here, the elevation drawings here, the Full  Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here and overall site plan here. I wrote about this for the Voice, and I’ll recapitulate the salient details here-

-The site location is 719 South Meadow Street, the northern end of big-box land. The site was previously home to a Cellular One and a 1980s one-story masonry building that was demolished in 2013, leaving the current vacant lot.

-The construction time period is expected to be from September 2015 to Spring 2016. The project will begin the PDC review process in April. The construction cost is pegged at $1.35 million, including landscaping and parking improvements.

-About 30 construction jobs and 40 permanent (albeit food service) jobs will be created, according to the application. Jeff Stein at the Ithaca Voice says that an email from Texas Roadhouse corporate expects 170 permanent jobs, so I’m not sure which figure is correct.

-The 7,163 sq ft store looks to be the standard corporate design theme for the 430-restuarant chain.

One of the things that continues to amaze me is that, here on the blog, news like this is not a big attention-getter, it’s worth a blurb and not much more. On the Voice, where the audience is more general, people go nuts when they hear about new chain places moving into Ithaca. The lovers and the haters, and sometimes even attacking each other in the comments. In the first 24 hours after the Roadhouse article was published, it was shared 300 times on facebook, and had 2600 likes. Any other real estate or business article would be lucky to get 1/20th of those figures. I never cease to be surprised.

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2. Looks like another town of Ithaca project is hitting the dustbin. The 68 acres involved in Rural Housing Preservation Associates Troy Road project have been put up for sale. Originally proposed in February 2014 as a 216-unit project, the original design met with stiff resistance from neighbors and town officials. In November, a smaller, 130-unit plan (shown above) that included on-sire orchards and clustered housing was much better received, and the town planning board declared itself Lead Agency for site plan review, but the project never progressed further. In consideration of other dead mutil-family projects (such as NRP’s Cayuga Trails and Holochuck Homes’ 106-unit townhome development), the town is having a difficult time providing new housing, partly due to developer problems and partly due to local opposition and red tape.

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3. The writers over at the Ithaca Times have an article up this week about the Kendal at Ithaca expansion currently underway. In order to stay on schedule, Kendal had to do their groundbreaking in January, with the intent of finishing in January 2016. Even with the appalling winter we’ve had this year, the director of Kendal claims the project is only three days behind schedule.

The Kendal expansion will add 24 senior apartments and 13 skilled patient care beds to the current 212 apartment and 35 beds on-site. The $29.3 million project is expected to add about 20 jobs when complete. Local architecture firm Chiang O’Brien is handling the design of the building additions.

4. More bad news from Cornell, at least for this blog’s sake. From a Cornell Daily Sun writeup about a town hall-style budget meeting conducted by outgoing President David Skorton:

“Cornell can also cut costs further by reducing campus construction, a step Skorton recommends the University take. 

‘Much of the construction you’ve seen on campus over the last 20 years has been supported by debt,” Skorton said. “We are at the point now, for at least a few years, where we need to very, very seriously reduce construction of new space.'”

I could imagine a couple impacts from this. First off, this probably won’t affect projects with permits in hand and funding in place, like the Gannett addition or Upson Hall’s renovation. But through the rest of the decade, there could be a serious curtailing of new construction. This would hurt the local construction industry, for whom Cornell is a good chunk of their work. Skorton’s explanation also works as a reason to not build any new dorms, and that’s worrisome. The rapidly increasing student population has not only been crunched by tight supply, it’s spreading into adjacent neighborhoods and raising rents for permanent residents, and contributing to strains in town-gown relations.

One thing is clear. The impacts of Cornell’s latest budget issue will be felt throughout the community.

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5. Looking ahead at the agenda for next week’s city Planning and Development Board meeting, here’s what to expect:

A. Final Site Plan Approval for the 4-unit, 9-bedroom INHS affordable housing project at 402 Sough Cayuga Street

B. Public Hearing and possible approval for the Lake Street Bridge Replacement

C. Discussion (no actions expected) on INHS’s 210 Hancock development – some minor tweaks have been worked into the plan, such as moving the new Lake Avenue north of the playground and adding a crosswalk.

D. Sketch Plan for 215 W. Spencer Street by Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative. This should be interesting. Readers of the blog will know I’ve mentioned this site a couple of times – it was a vacant lot that was sold by the IURA to local rental developer PPM Homes a couple weeks ago, and apparently they’re wasting no time with getting their plans in motion.

A 0.47 acre parcel (shown above), 215-221 West Spencer is in an R-3a zone that allows for a 40′ structure with 35% lot coverage. That’s a max theoretical buildout of 28,662 sq ft (which if you give 20,000 sq ft for the housing units, and 1,000 sq ft per unit, we get a hypothetical 20 units), but whatever does get proposed will likely be somewhat smaller. STREAM Collaborative is a local architecture firm with a few other projects under its belt, including the 21-unit 323 Taughannock project on Inlet Island, and the Franklin/O’Shae proposal for the Old Library site (the proposal that reuses the Old Library Building). STREAM Collaborative was also responsible for the design of the Troy Road project mentioned earlier, so at least they won’t be going without work anytime soon. Noah Demarest has done pretty good work previously, so I have high hopes for this project.

Along with these four discussion topics, the PDB will review a minor subdivision to create a new home lot at 104 Campbell Avenue on West Hill, a review of application materials to see if any revisions are desired, and discussion of the Planning Board Annual Report, 2014 Edition.

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6. It’s that time of the year for building new student rentals for 2015/16. Here we have a Craigslist posting for 318-320 Pleasant Street on South Hill. The rear portion (left) is an addition, a duplex with 3 bedrooms each. The owners of the 105-year old house are members of the Stavropoulos family, who run the Renting Ithaca rental company and the State Street Diner.





Poking At the Jobs Numbers, Again

9 03 2015

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Talk about doom and gloom. One look at the Journal’s webpage and the pessimists are in for a treat. It’s no secret that Binghamton, Elmira and to a lesser extent Syracuse and Utica-Rome have suffering, declining economies. Upstate was the factory of the nation a hundred years ago. Now, for a number of reasons, manufacturing has shifted to the south, or more commonly, overseas. Ithaca’s neighboring metros are suffering.

I’m personally not a fan of the way the article is presented. It’s the highlighted piece of the Journal. But the title doesn’t really apply to Ithaca, and they acknowledge that if one reads the article. A lot of folks will only glance at the title, think it applies to Ithaca, and think that the Ithaca economy is tanking. Question dear reader, how many times have you read an article online, scrolled down to the comments and clearly see the comment of someone who read only part of the article, if any of it at all?

Here’s the Ithaca excerpt, which they title the “Ithaca Oasis”:

“Ithaca is the sole economic oasis in central New York. Since the recession, Ithaca’s private-sector jobs have grown by 10 percent. Only New York City has done better in the state, with nearly 15 percent more private-sector jobs in the same period.

“We have come back in terms of jobs in this most recent recovery,” said Elia Kacaypyr, who follows Tompkins County conditions as an economics professor at Ithaca College. “Things are better here than many of our neighbors.”

The reason for Ithaca’s resilience: an economy heavily dependent on education services and far less reliant on manufacturing. Education and health services alone added 6,800 jobs in the Ithaca region over the past 10 years, with 4,600 of those since the recession in 2008.

But that belies some underlying weakness, Kacaypyr said, notably in housing and retail sales.

Median home prices in Ithaca declined slightly in 2014 compared to 2013, and 2014 retail sales increased just slightly ahead of a 1.6 percent inflation rate. Also, the pace of Ithaca’s job growth is slowing.”

I guess if it was me, I’d have pushed for “Ithaca An Economic Oasis in Sputtering Upstate Economy”, or “Upstate Economy Suffers, Ithaca Rare Exception”. But what do I know; I’m a blogger, not a professional journalist.

Anyway, that last paragraph stands out to me – the IJ ran an article about that a couple of days ago, here. The report, prepared by Elia Kacapyr of Ithaca College, is mostly disappointing news, 0% growth in the local economy with most indicators staying steady with inflation. But I do want to make a couple of contrasting points to some of the data.

The jobs number stated in the article, which seems to be a major swaying factor in the ecnomic report, is a net gain of 100 jobs in 2014 (a 2013 annual average of 69,000, and a 2014 annual average of 69,150, which is rounded down). The data comes from the Federal BLS website here. I don’t fault working with the data in it current form, but I will note that the numbers are suspect.

All of the year-over-year job losses are in a period of February to May 2014. I’ve written about this before. This was covered on the Voice. You can darn well bet that a loss of 1300 jobs like the one reported last May would make the news. Then the Voice ran reaction articles from city officials and county officials.

The BLS numbers are up for revision. And because the numbers are generated via random sampling, that for a small community like Ithaca, may not be statistically significant, and the potential for misleading data is large. In Spring 2012, initial reports of a 4,100 job loss were revised to a gain of 1,100, a nearly 10 percent change to the overall total (I made note of the steep drop that time as well). Revisions to the 2014 data haven’t been fully implemented yet, and there’s still no evidence of large layoffs in the education and healthcare sector. Latest numbers from Cornell’s factbook show the university added 73 faculty and staff from November 2013 to November 2014 (1% growth), and Ithaca College’s headcount decreased by 18 (1% loss). No large layoffs in the Ithaca area were noted in the state’s WARN act database.

My honest expectation is that when the numbers are completely final, the number of jobs averaged out over 2014 will come out between 69,600 and 70,100. It still won’t be as much growth as 2012-13, but it’s a roughly 1% increase for the year. I could be wrong, but we’ll see.

The report suggests 400 jobs will be gain in 2015, and economic growth of 0.3%. I think that with Cornell’s recent budget issues, and the resulting slowdown in hiring it may cause, that’s a fair estimate.





News Tidbits 3/7/15: All is Not Well on East Hill

7 03 2015

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1. Leading off this week with a note of optimism – David Lubin, the developer of the proposed Harold’s Square mixed-used building in downtown Ithaca, says that plans for the 11-story building are still underway, according to a comment he made to the Ithaca Journal. Lubin says he’s currently in the process of lining up investors to finance the construction of the project, a challenging process once one tells investors that the project is in upstate New York. It’s not impossible to have a private project financed in Ithaca (if the Marriott underway down the street is any indication), but for a project costing $38 million, it’s no surprise that it’s taking a while. It’s easy to think that this one has slipped into the dustbin, but fortunately it has not.

Meanwhile, Ithaca Builds woke from its winter slumber to give an update regarding Lubin’s other big project, the Chain Works District for the old Emerson site on South Hill. Currently, the Chain Works District is in the process of writing up its Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS). A DGEIS is part of the State Envrionmental Quality Review (SEQR), where the leading agency looks at a project, determines if any adverse project impacts are properly mitigated, and if so, issues a statement giving a negative declaration (approval). In this case, the NYS DEC also needs to be on board, approving the contaminated site for residential use. This is a pretty complicated project. There’s 800,000 sq ft of space to be removed or re-purposed, in an environmentally compromised site split between two political entities who are conducting joint meetings with their planning boards in an effort to try and move this project forward (the town of Ithaca board deferred to the city of Ithaca for lead agency; and both have rezoned the site to their respective specialized mixed-use zones). According to IB, the Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) contain about 60,000 pages of paperwork. The official timeline (already behind schedule, according to city docs) hopes to have the DGEIS submitted shortly, with a declaration of significance sometime in the Spring. In theory, Phase I site prep could start this year, but who knows if that will happen in practice.

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2. The ILPC (Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council) had a chance to review the four proposals for the Old Library site. Perhaps no surprise, the favored proposal was the Franklin/O’Shae proposal at top, which keeps the 1960s library and its “intrinsic historic value”. Members did, however, express some concern with the current building’s environmental contamination (asbestos). As for the other proposals, council members generally liked the Travis Hyde plan, and felt the Cornerstone and DPI projects were insensitive to the site (although one member expressed appreciation that at least the Cornerstone plan had affordable housing). It sounds like there will be some major tweaks to the building renders in the full proposals due later this month, so it’ll be best to hold off on judgment until those revised plans are published.

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3. Now for some bad news- Cornell is running into major financial problems, to the tune of a $55 million deficit. About half of that, $27.5 million, is expected to be reconciled with budget cuts (the other half will be covered by tuition increases). Considering the very large role Cornell plays in the local economy, this could have a chilling effect on local businesses that depend on Cornell or its employees. There are shades of 2009 here, when a projected $150 million deficit over 5 years resulted in 432 voluntary retirements, and hundreds of jobs lost.  The cut from 2008 to 2009 was a 5% reduction for the 2009-10 fiscal year, while the cut to go into effect for 2015-16 is estimated at 2-2.3%. Quoting an interview the Sun did with Skorton:

“[In the 2008 financial crisis,] We froze everybody’s salary for a year, paused construction, slowed down on hiring, developed a voluntary staff retirement incentive and 8 percent of the staff force was reduced … and [we had] a couple hundred layoffs, which is very, very hard to do,” Skorton said. “So that’s how the University acted in the worst crisis that ever happened. And so that’s a predictor of how it’s going to happen in this case.”

An article in the Sun a couple of days later notes that faculty employment is at an all time high. With 1,652 faculty in Fall 2014, Cornell has now passed 2007’s 1,647. – but one observant commenter, who I will happily buy a drink if I ever meet in person, notes that Cornell’s total enrollment is up 2,050 students since 2007. Devil’s in the details, folks – Cornell could use this “all-time high” as an excuse to not hire more faculty during its latest financial crisis, even though the student-faculty ratio have been increasing for years. Let’s not forget that faculty-student ratios are a crucial part of college rankings.

All of this is rather disconcerting news, especially in a time where the national economy has been picking up. Cornell has real potential to not only cause a localized recession, but also fall behind its peer institutions.

4. On a somewhat brighter note, even with this appalling winter, the construction of Klarman Hall is only nine days behind schedule, according to the Sun. Atrium glass installation should begin in April, and East Avenue will be reopened to two-way traffic around that same time. Although this project is well underway towards a December 2015 completion, one has a right to wonder if it is wise for Cornell to pursue the Gannett expansion and Upson renovation (valued at over $100 million combined) during these perilous financial times.

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5. The town of Lansing’s planning board is set to review some slight changes to the massive Village Solars apartment project at its Tuesday meeting.

First, a quick primer – while the whole plan is for about 300 units, the approved phases account for only 174 units, and are being built in phases. The photo updates I’ve previously featured here on the blog show the first phase underway, buildings “A”, “B” and “C” on the right (south), with 36 units total. There are four phases, with two sub-phases in phase 2. Phase 2 consists of D, E, G and H with their 41 approved apartment units, and phase 2A is building F, which has the community center as well as 10 more units.

The revised plan calls for moving 6 units from buildings G and H to building M, which is in phase 4. G and H are combined into one apartment building (G/H), leaving 35 units in Phase 2. There are a couple reasons cited for this change – when working with NYSEG to lay out the utilities, it was decided to make phase 2 all electric services, due to concerns that Lansing may not be able to provide gas service if the tense situation with the gas pipeline proposal on West Dryden Road doesn’t go in the town’s favor. One of the results of the utility infrastructure change was a difference in utilities layout, and it was deemed prudent to shirt the walkway northward. This impacted the site design, which is why the Lucentes are seeking to revise the PDA (planned development area, similar to the city’s PUD and the town’s PDZ).

The change isn’t huge, and isn’t likely cause too much consternation among board members. This is actually the first site plan I’ve seen for the project, since it was approved before the town uploaded supplemental docs to its webpage. More importantly, it’s much clearer how future phases could build out – if the ~300-unit project takes 8-10 years as projected, then estimating the construction of phase 2 and 2A from summer 2015-16 seems reasonable.

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6. Planning board members had mixed reviews about the Simeon’s rebuild, according to the Ithaca Times. While some members were excited about the rebuild, others expressed concern with the proposed addition of a second-floor balcony, seen in the above render by architect Jason Demarest. The project is eligible for state tax credits designed to renovate historic buildings, but if the credits are granted, then the balcony would not be built. If the credits are not granted, the building owners are looking not only at a balcony, but the possibility of widening the bay windows a little (it turns out the bay windows were an early renovation to the original Griffin Building, and larger bay windows would benefit a planned expansion of Simeon’s to the second floor). Regardless, cast-iron ornamentation that was salvaged before demolition will be incorporated into the rebuild.

During the same meeting, the planning board accepted revised signage for the Marriott, and there was further discussion about the Canopy Hilton. Nearby residents expressed concerns that a downtown hotel will increase traffic, and complaints were made about the ingress/egress plan for both the hotel and the CSMA next door. No word on the land swap CSMA wants, but it doesn’t seem like they’re budging on their property’s all-important utility easement quite yet.





Design Competition Announced for Collegetown Apartment Building

19 02 2015

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Back in August, I wrote a story about how a student competition was held in the early 1980s to design the mixed-use building currently standing at 409 College Avenue. It appears that someone liked the idea and decided to launch a competition of their own.

According to the Cornell Daily Sun, the competition is to design a replacement for 313-317 College Avenue, a property owned by local developer/landlord Lambrou Real Estate since the late 1970s. Cornellians of my late 2000s vintage will remember this building for housing Dino’s Bar and Grill. In previous years, it’s also held a grocer (1920s), a furniture store (1950s), a record store (1970s), and the Cosmopolitan Restaurant (1990s). Finding the original construction date of the building has been difficult (I’d guess ca. 1910, since it’s missing from this 1906 photo but it’s definitely an older style), and it appears substantial renovations occurred in the mid 1970s, likely the porthole windows on the fourth floor. Because of the heavy alterations borne by the storefronts and top floor over the years, the building has lost much of its historic value.

From a zoning standpoint, the building is in the densest Collegetown zone, MU-2. That entails a mandatory mixed-use component (usually interpreted as commercial space on the first floor), the building can occupy almost all the lot except for a rear setback of 10 feet, and no required parking. The building must be between 4 and 6 floors, and 45′-80′ tall, with a flat roof. 313-317 College already occupies most of its lot footprint, so the area of the new building wouldn’t be a big change, but the addition of a few more floors would make for a greater visual impact. More likely than not, there will be student apartments from floors 2-(4 or 5 or 6).

Speaking specifically about the competition, it’s open to any member of the Cornell community, student, faculty or staff, and has been underway for a couple weeks. Sketch plans were due Wednesday the 18th, final plans/schematics April 7th, and the winner will be announced May 17th. The call for proposals asks for sustainability as a design theme, so an emphasis on “green” features is expected in the submissions. The judges panel will consist of Lambrou Real Estate, AAP professors yet to be chosen, and Ithaca Student Housing, which is also staffed by the Lambrou Family (different branch maybe?). No word yet if there’s a cash prize for the winner.

Just like 409 College over 30 years ago, this is a win-win for everyone involved. The winner gets exposure and a pretty big project to claim on their resume. The Lambrous get a project at a fraction of the design cost of an architectural firm. I hope to see and share some of the proposals as they become available.








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